I find myself either in tears or on the verge of tears often, and in some unusual circumstances. I first discovered my emotions were at the surface at the M.A.S.K. Unity Award for Mom’s Making a Difference event. I was one of 30 women nominated for the award, but I wasn’t in the top 15 and I didn’t expect to be brought up to the stage to speak. However, all 30 of us were announced and asked to respond to the question: “What fuels your passion to continue the work that you do?” There were amazing women in that room with amazing stories and I found myself very emotional about their work and about the work I have been engaged in over the past 10 years. I have come to know many families that have either lost loved ones or have loved ones that experienced life changing injuries due to car crashes. I have come to care for and consider these people my friends and their stories have continued to fuel my passion to make our roadways safer and to prepare teenagers for the realities of driving. That is what I talked about at the podium that day and it brought me to tears as I thought about my friends and the losses they have endured. When I went back to my seat a woman passed me a note on the back of her business card saying she appreciated what I had said and what I do and that her son had been in a collision that changed his life. That too, brought me to tears.
Earlier this month I was in a meeting with an individual from the Director of Transportation’s office and we were talking about changes in our industry, the shortcomings in this industry and the impact the MVD decision has had on our business. Again I found myself in tears, not something I do when I am in a business meeting. The emotions came from a place of frustration and in some ways defeat, since the solutions seem to be elusive.
Just last week I met with a woman I have been talking to over e-mail for almost 2 years. She lives in Seattle and has wanted to visit our site and see the simulation technology we employ and our instruction methods. This year she embarked on an 8,000-mile trip and one of her stops was Scottsdale, Arizona. She came to our office and spent a day observing our training. When I met her I asked her, “What is your motivation for being here?” Her response was this: “My hope is to make our roads safer by making it socially unacceptable to be a bad driver. We need to rethink how we drive, how we teach it in America, and make safety and cooperation a far higher priority.” The thought running through my head was “good luck with that!” I then began to tell her about the journey we have been on over the past 10 years and our desire to bring about change in driver education and training and to bring awareness to how poorly prepared new drivers are. Once again I found myself very emotional and in tears. Not something I do with strangers!
I find myself in a quandary of caring deeply about the work and seriously wondering has it been worth it? Ten years is a long time and while we know for certain that we have made a difference in young lives, the toll it has taken on us has been overwhelming. It became abundantly clear to me that I have also lost my perspective when I was in classrooms and events this past month, talking to teenagers about the topic of driving. What I learned only added to my sense of frustration and defeat. It wasn’t the teens that were making me feel that way, but what they had to say about the people who are responsible for them.
When I asked a group of freshmen the question: Why is getting your license important to you, I heard from many students “my mom (or my dad) wants me to get it so she/he doesn’t have to drive me around anymore.” Which, when you think about it, doesn’t seem unreasonable, but when a parent is pushing a student to get their license so they aren’t inconvenienced anymore, it concerns me. When I look at these kids, some of them are ready to take on the responsibility of driving and others are not. Each students learns differently and has their own pace, getting a license shouldn’t be “the end result.” The result “should be’ developing a safe and responsible young driver, no matter what it takes, but quite frankly that is rarely the case.
When talking to groups of students in Mesa, many who already had their license, I was shocked at their lack of knowledge and understanding about basic driving concepts. I asked simple questions regarding the Rules of the Road, and they did not know the answers. When I asked “what did you do to prepare to get your license the answer often was, “I drove around with my parents.” The next question was how many hours do you think you had behind the wheel before you were licensed? The answers ranged from “I don’t know to a lot.” Again, at face value, you might think, a lot of parents do that to prepare their teenager for a license. The problem is that there is a difference between driving around and teaching or coaching your teenager to be a responsible and safe driver.
In a Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council Town Hall meeting I was a resource/facilitator discussing the topic of teen driving with a group of teens. There was lively discussion and at one point a young lady asked me, “What has made you so passionate about this?” My response was, “You are what fuels my passion. While I just met all of you, I look at you and I see the future.” The discussion ranged from “Why isn’t driver’s education required?” to “Why is the license test so easy?” Several of them talked about the fact that their parents were “content” about the fact that they had passed the MVD test, when in their opinion, the test was no indication of their driving ability. Unfortunately, at one point in the process this group of bright young teenagers spiraled to a place of “What can we do if the adults in our lives don’t provide good examples, or the resources to help us become safe drivers?” They eventually came up with a plan that really had no hope of going anywhere because of cost and scope. These kids were looking for basics: provide us resources to teach us and provide adequate testing and retesting to insure that our skills have not deteriorated. When you think about this, is it so much to ask?
I have been in this business for ten years and find it increasingly difficult to run a company with integrity that provides quality driver training and education. The public paradigm is: “it shouldn’t cost that much.” It should be in the schools and learning to drive is not a priority among the myriad of other activities teenagers are involved in. This fact is abundantly clear through parents actions day in and day out. Most adults consider themselves good drivers and think they can teach their kids to drive particularly if there are no requirements for anything different. At least before when the private schools could test for the license, it gave parents a bit of an incentive to get their kids some training and tested before they had to go to the MVD. Now, that is no longer the case and it shows in the amount of parents making the choice to “just do it themselves.” Of course it is not that hard if the evaluation of skills is the ability to move a vehicle and make a right and left turn and a few parking maneuvers in a parking lot, but is that enough? Is that enough for our kids?
What I do know is that after spending years researching, observing and addressing learning styles, and learning challenges, defining specific benchmarks and objectives that should be met in the process – the truth is it takes a GREAT deal to prepare anyone for the responsibility of driving. There are stages of learning and skills that range from the basics to defensive and strategic driving. Does a young driver need to know how to be strategic in their driving? The answer is “yes” if you want them to be able to navigate the craziness that is on our roads day in and day out. If they’re not, they will not be able to react to situations they encounter and will become one of the statistics we have come to expect from them.
Yes, the truth is, we expect them to get in crashes because they’re teenagers! Recently I was in a waiting room where I overheard a mom talking about the fact that her 20 year old has had 3 car crashes, all her fault, yet the thought never crossed this mother’s mind that her daughter may not really know what she is doing out there. Of course, I was compelled to say something to the mother and tell her we might be able to help. Her first question to me was: “how much does it cost?” I thought to myself, your daughter has had 3 crashes, totaled 3 cars and is lucky she wasn’t badly hurt or killed and you’re worried about how much evaluating and training her will cost! She then admitted her 17 year old just rolled his vehicle because he was trying to avoid a deer. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen a deer in the valley in a long time.
I teach classes where I ask students, how many of you have friends that have been in a collision – many times every one of them raised their hand. When I ask them, “how many of you have felt uncomfortable or unsafe when driving in a vehicle with your friends – invariably most or all of them raise their hand. I continue to wonder “why are they allowed to drive with friends at the age of 15, 16 or even 17? Unfortunately, I know the answer to this question -because it is easier. It is easier than having to cart them around and easier than implementing a rule that has to be enforced and possibly argue about – it’s just easier.
This is the first in a series of journals as I look back on our work in the field of driver education and training and our desire to make a difference in the lives of young people. Stay tuned for more.